11 essential L.A. art exhibitions this fall, from Obama portraits to smog art

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is working with limited gallery space, having recently torn down most of its east campus to launch construction of a new building. Given the impact on its fall exhibition schedule, now might be a good time for LACMA to initiate a name change.

How about the Los Angeles County Museum of Mostly Modern + Contemporary Art?

LACMMM+CA for unpronounceable short.

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That would seem to reflect what’s in store this fall — and for at least the next 18 months. Of 14 current and planned special exhibitions, only one looks at art from before the modern era.

“Mixpantli: Space, Time and the Indigenous Origins of Mexico” (opening Dec. 12) is the lone historical exhibition amid the five fall shows, marking the 500th anniversary of the fall of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital. The calendar for the remainder of 2021 presents one modern show (on early photography), while all the rest is contemporary art.

Beyond that, for all of 2022 into spring 2023, six more exhibitions are now on the LACMMM+CA schedule — and all of those are contemporary art as well. I’m looking forward to several of them. Still, for the largest encyclopedic art museum west of the Mississippi, such a narrow, lopsided program is frankly absurd.

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As I noted when the pandemic closure finally lifted in April, the museum has been acting more like a kunsthalle (or contemporary exhibition hall) for years. At least 80% of its exhibitions since 2017 have showcased 20th and 21st century art, and even that bloated percentage is rising.

Art-world money is lodged in contemporary art these days, which may help explain the irresponsible schedule. But given all the city’s other contemporary museums — the Hammer, Museum of Contemporary Art, the Broad, the California African American Museum — plus a lively, far-flung network of small community museums, college galleries, other kunsthalles and commercial galleries, all presenting the art of our time, do we really need a LACMMM+CA?

The old LACMA does have a big collection of impressive art spanning thousands of years of global creative history. So why is most of it languishing in storage?

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Here’s a selection of what’s coming this fall:

Sept. 8-March 20

“LaToya Ruby Frazier: The Last Cruze”

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The Black working class has been a central subject in the work of LaToya Ruby Frazier, born in 1982 just outside the faded industrial powerhouse of Pittsburgh. “The Last Cruze” features 67 photographs, a video and an architectural installation that look at the social effects of a shuttered Chevrolet auto plant. California African American Museum, 600 State Drive, Exposition Park, L.A. Closed Mondays. Free. (213) 744-7432. caamuseum.org

“LaToya Ruby Frazier: The Last Cruze,” a collection of the artist’s photographs, videos and more at California African American Museum.

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(From LaToya Ruby Frazier and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels)

Sept. 9-April 3

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“The Modern Chair”

In the mid-19th century, when German furniture-maker Michael Thonet figured out an industrial technique to securely steam wooden slats, bend them into curves and laminate the layers together, the modern chair was born. In the more than 150 years since, some 50 million Thonet bentwood chairs have been produced. One will lead off this survey of around 50 examples of what came after. Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center, 300 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. Closed Mondays-Wednesdays. $5. psmuseum.org

Verner Panton's Heart Cone chair

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Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center takes a look at chair design in “The Modern Chair.” Verner Panton (Danish, 1926-1998), Heart Cone chair, 1958.

(Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center)

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Sept. 12-June 6

“Pipilotti Rist: Big Heartedness, Be My Neighbor”

The survey of video installations and sculptures by Swiss media artist Pipilotti Rist was getting ready to open last year when the coronavirus pandemic shuttered the museum. Finally opening, the show will also debut a new audio-video installation. The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, 152 N. Central Ave., Little Tokyo, downtown L.A. Open Wednesdays-Mondays. $8-$15 (includes same-day admission to MOCA); members, jurors and children younger than 12 are free; Thursdays after 5 p.m. are free. (213) 626-6222. moca.org

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An image from Pipilotti Rist's  2000 video "Open My Glade": A woman's face and hands face the camera, pressed up to glass

The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA will have a survey of works by media artist Pipilotti Rist.

(© Pipilotti Rist. From the artist, Hauser & Wirth and Luhring Augustine)

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Sept. 14-Jan. 2

“Fluxus Means Change: Jean Brown’s Avant-Garde Archive”

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Jean Brown, a former insurance agent living in a tiny Western Massachusetts town, became fascinated with Fluxus, the loose international assembly of 1960s artists that included George Maciunas, Dick Higgins, Yoko Ono and Wolf Vostell. Six thousand books, pamphlets, notebooks, multiples and other objects later, Brown’s archive helped establish the Getty Research Institute in 1985. Getty Center, North Sepulveda Boulevard and Getty Center Drive, L.A. Closed Mondays. Free; advance timed-entry tickets required. (310) 440-7300. getty.edu

Sept. 18-Dec. 18

“Kim Abeles: Smog Collectors, 1987-2020″

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For more than 30 years, Los Angeles artist Kim Abeles has made art with one of urbanism’s less-admired found objects — smog. She turns the foul mix of particulate matter and ground-level ozone into paintings, drawings and adornment for dinner plates, baby highchairs, books and relentlessly ticking clocks. Begovich Gallery, Cal State Fullerton, 800 N. State College Blvd. Closed Fridays and Sundays. Free. fullerton.edu

Oct. 10-Jan. 9

"Dinner for Two in One Month of Smog, 2011" consists of white porcelain dinnerware and linens colored by air pollution.

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L.A. artist Kim Abeles’ artwork centered on air pollution heads to Cal State Fullerton’s Begovich Gallery. “Dinner for Two in One Month of Smog,” 2011, consists of smog (particulate matter) collected on porcelain dinnerware and linen.

(Kim Abeles)

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“No Humans Involved”

From the “greed is good” Reagan era to the “I’ve got mine” ethos of Trumpism, concepts of benevolent humanism have been put through the ringer over the past 40 years. Seven emerging artists and collectives look askance at some of the ramifications. UCLA Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood. Closed Mondays. Free; reservations required. (310) 443-7000. hammer.ucla.edu

Las Nietas de Nonó's "Ilustraciones de la mecánica," 2016–19, performance

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Las Nietas de Nono’s “Ilustraciones de la mecanica,” 2016-19, to be featured at the Hammer’s “No Humans Involved.”

(Paula Court)

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Oct. 14-16

“Sun & Sea”

For three days only, up to 20 tons of sand will turn MOCA’s Geffen warehouse into an indoor beach for an opera-performance sung by 13 vocalists. A big draw at the Lithuanian Pavilion at the last Venice Biennale, the current MOCA production by Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė and Lina Lapelytė is co-presented with UCLA’s Hammer Museum and Center for the Art of Performance. Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, 152 N. Central Ave., Little Tokyo, L.A. $20, $25. moca.org

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Oct. 19-Jan. 9

“Holbein: Capturing Character in the Renaissance”

First in Basel, Switzerland, then in London at the court of Henry VIII, German artist Hans Holbein the Younger made a name with highly refined portraits of royals, courtiers and others in 16th century society, giving face to aspects of the Northern European Renaissance. The show is billed as the first large Holbein exhibition in the United States. Getty Center, North Sepulveda Boulevard and Getty Center Drive, L.A. Closed Mondays. Free; advance timed-entry tickets required. (310) 440-7300. getty.edu

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Nov. 7-Jan. 2

“The Obama Portraits Tour”

The portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama commissioned from Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, respectively, for the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., make a stop on a nationwide tour in the city of Wiley’s birth. A selection of Black American portraits from the museum’s permanent collection will also be on view. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. Closed Wednesdays. $10-$25; kids 2 and younger are free; discounts for L.A. County residents. (323) 857-6010. lacma.org

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Nov. 10-Jan. 24

Kehinde Wiley's portrait of President Obama

Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of President Obama for the National Portrait Gallery will join Amy Sherald’s piece on First Lady Michelle Obama at LACMA as part of “The Obama Portraits Tour.”

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(Mark Gulezian)

“Rubens: Picturing Antiquity”

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When young Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) converted to Catholicism and entered Latin school, he received deep training in the classics. A selection of drawings, oil sketches and monumental paintings by the Flemish artist and diplomat will be juxtaposed with Greek, Roman and Etruscan art from the Getty Villa collection. Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades. Closed Tuesdays. Free; advanced reservations required. (310) 440-7300. getty.edu

"The Calydonian Boar Hunt" by Peter Paul Rubens

Getty Villa will host “Rubens: Picturing Antiquity.” “The Calydonian Boar Hunt,” Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, 1577-1640); Belgium; circa 1611–1612; oil on panel.

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(The J. Paul Getty Museum)

Nov. 11-Feb. 27

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“Sahara: Acts of Memory”

Work by Ismet and Amir Berbić, two generations of displaced graphic designers, are examined in a show focused on the father’s creation of a graphic identity for Sahara, a Bosnian refugee camp in Denmark, and the son’s recollection of his childhood there. Benton Museum of Art, Pomona College, 120 W. Bonita Ave., Claremont; open Tuesdays-Saturdays. Free; reservations required. pomona.edu

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